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This was the year apps pulled ahead in the D.C. cab wars.
Under pressure from Uber and Lyft, ridership of traditional taxis has declined by around 20 percent in 2014—some companies said this figure was as high as 30 percent. D.C. cab fares are regulated by the city, and drivers say they can’t compete with lower UberX, fares. (UberX is a cheaper offshoot of Uber, where drivers who aren’t licensed chauffeurs use their personal vehicles. The company also dispatches black cars and traditional taxis through its app.)
Cabbies, organized in a quasi-union with help from the Teamsters, begged the D.C. Council to regulate rideshare companies more. In the weeks leading up to an October vote on legislation that would legalize UberX and Lyft in the city, cabs led protests throughout the city, honking loudly and blocking traffic—an annoying tactic that may have not been the industry’s best PR move.
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The Council ultimately approved legislation that increased the insurance requirements for rideshare companies, but cabbies argued that didn’t do enough. Drivers wanted the bill to set a floor price that these services could charge, preventing them from being too cheap. The new laws didn’t do that, but they did say cabs could set their own fares when dispatched through an electronic service. When hailed on the street, however, standard meter rates apply.
In 2015, cabs will be trying to make a bigger play to recover some of the market. All cabs will soon be equipped with an app that allows customers to e-hail rides like they do with Uber and Lyft. The D.C. Taxicab Commission says testing will start in March. There may be demand: Hailo—a London-based company that e-hailed cabs for a surcharge—announced in October that it would be ceasing operations in North America, including D.C., saying it couldn’t compete with Uber.
But it wasn’t all rosy for Uber either. Yes, the company’s rolling in money. But it also had a PR year from hell, with reports that it surreptitiously poached drivers from other services, used aggressive tactics to undermine its competition, and considered doing opposition research on journalists who negatively portrayed the company.
So if the cab industry earnestly decides to enter the 21st century in 2015, it could make a play for some disillusioned Uberistas. After all, riders may tout Uber’s affordability and convenience, but few people actually like the company’s management.